The SBJT Forum: Evangelical Responses to Postmodernism -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 005:2 (Summer 2001)
Article: The SBJT Forum: Evangelical Responses to Postmodernism
Author: Anonymous

The SBJT Forum:
Evangelical Responses to Postmodernism

Editor’s Note: Readers should be aware of the forum’s format. Scott Hafemann, D. A. Carson, C. Ben Mitchell, and Timothy George have been asked specific questions to which they have provided written responses. These writers are not responding to one another. The journal’s goal for the Forum is to provide significant thinkers’ views on topics of interest without requiring lengthy articles from these heavily-committed individuals. Their answers are presented in an order that hopefully makes the forum read as much like a unified presentation as possible.

SBJT: What is the impact of postmodernism on contemporary, evangelical hermeneutics?

Scott Hafemann: Postmodernism seeks to be “honest” when it declares that what controls the interpretation of the Bible has never been the biblical text itself, but rather the particular political, ethnic, religious, and gender paradigms from which one approaches the material. Rather than covering this up, or trying to resist it (unless it doesn’t like one’s particular political community!), postmodern hermeneutics celebrates the captivity of the text, inasmuch as language is not to be understood as referential in regard to “objective” realities outside itself. Instead, language is a socially conditioned set of signs or codes reflecting the experience-produced values of its community. Interpretations are not “valid” or “invalid,” but acceptable (i.e., useful) or not acceptable (not useful) to one’s community or self. The goal in life (reading “texts,” written and unwritten, is basic to life itself!) is not to adjudicate interpretations, but to balance competing political agendas. After all, there is nothing more subjective and ideologically driven than the violent act of reading.

Consequently, like the ancient (remember Origen), medieval (with its “four-fold sense of Scripture”), and modern (demythologizing is allegory in disguise!) Church before it, postmodernism within Christian circles has given birth to a form of the allegorical method in which the interpreter determines what the text “really meant” in loco auctoris. Unlike the past, however, postmodernism no longer maintains that the Holy Spirit, Church, or enlightenment scholarship, coming to us from outside ourselves, leads us into the hidden truths of Scripture. Instead, postmodern Christianity preaches that it is the Experience of the reader itself, or of a community as Reader, that informs or reforms the text in accordance with its own filters as determined by its cultural identity, gender, or political community. The Holy Spirit, in speaking to us, has become us. To read the Bible is to create out of it a “black theology,” “feminist theology,” “post-conservative evange...

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